Today is Saturday, August 3, 2013.
There is a wealth of diversity among the indigenous peoples of the world, but one important concept that they all seem to have in common is a deep respect for the natural world and a sense of the interconnectedness with all other forms of life. Another idea that many of them have in common, especially the various tribes in North America, is the idea that any decision made in the present must take into consideration its possible outcome seven generations into the future.
For native peoples, the natural world is the immediate source of life, regardless of how or by whom it may have been created. The future of the natural world is intrinsically interconnected with the future of humanity, in the aboriginal view. Chief Dan George summed it up this way: “We are as much alive as we keep the earth alive.” This is why native peoples the world over consider the decisions made by the governments and business interests of Europeans and their descendants (which includes Americans of European descent) to be destructive and short-sighted. (And let’s be clear: we are talking about white people, because white people have been leaders in government and business in the Western world for the last few centuries.)
The so-called “modern” view includes the ideas that human beings are the apex of all creation, and as such, they are eligible to use any and all natural resources for their own benefit, without consideration given to the benefit or destruction of animal and plant life, which is considered inferior to human life, and without consideration to the sustainability of said resources. In addition, certain people believe that human beings don’t have to worry about things like pollution because the world will come to a destructive end, anyway, in the so-called Battle of Armageddon. Those in the fields of scientific inquiry, business, government, and education seem to think that liife can be compartmentalized for the convenience of humans, and one action isn’t necessarily linked causally to any other action. (Specific examples of this are the idea that the destruction of the Amazon Rainforest or the northern boreal forest has nothing to do with the quality of the air we breathe, and that extracting tar sands from the earth and transporting them through a pipeline thousands of miles long has nothing to do with fish dying in a lake along the route of the pipeline. Another example: the belief that those who cut down a forest have no responsibility for the destruction of the habitat of the animals who live there, and therefore are not responsible for extinctions or overpopulations of certain species.)
The aboriginal view, by contrast, is that human beings are one of many species of animal life on the planet, and that humans are no more or less important than any other form of animal life. All animal life, including human beings, comprise a big family, and the animals are considered relatives. Human beings are stewards of the earth, and must be careful that the natural world remains sustainable at least seven generations into the future. All decisions and actions on the part of human beings have consequences somewhere in the natural world.
What do we mean by seven generations? We are talking about great-grandparents, grandparents, parents, siblings, children, grandchildren, and great-grand children. Those who have passed on from this life are considered as well as those Souls who are waiting to come into human bodies. In terms of years, seven generations means anywhere from 120 to 140 years. Since this is a longer period of time than can normally be seen within one person’s lifetime, it is sometimes hard for us to grasp. Some will say, “I won’t be here then, so why should I care?” Perhaps it was a little easier to care about future generations when people had bigger families with more children and grandchildren.
These days, those who are considered “indigenous” comprise less than 6% of the population of the entire world. In the United States, Native Americans are only about 2% of the total population. Since most indigenous cultures do not have the concept of private ownership of land, they have been vulnerable to colonization by cultures who wanted to expand their “ownership” of land, with the riches and power that land ownership confers within their culture. With no defense against the diseases that the colonizers brought with them, a high percentage of indigenous people the world over have been wiped out, and the various genocidal practices of the colonizers have completed the process of decimating indigenous populations, as well as robbing the survivors of their native culture and spiritual practices. Since there are, relatively speaking, so few indigenous people in the world, their voices are not heard, and their message is not given any respect or consideration.
Still, the First Nations peoples were here on the continent we call North America first, and they were here for thousands of years before the European explorers and settlers arrived. On their watch, the natural environment remained in pristine condition. The destruction of the environment has been mostly under the leadership of white people of European descent. These are the facts. This is history.
It’s time that those in charge take responsibility for what they have done to the earth and take steps to correct their mistakes. It’s time for us to give serious consideration to the values and views of the native peoples of this world. There’s no reason to go backward or to throw away modern scientific knowledge or technology, but modern humans need to rein ourselves in and make the sustainability of our natural environment a priority. If we don’t, human beings will eventually become extinct. Period. It’s time to stop depending on non-renewable energy sources that are polluting our environment and start looking for ways to produce clean energy. It’s time to stop the destruction of the world’s major forests. It’s time to re-consider our use of pesticides and weed-killers in light of the mass die-off of bees around the world. It’s time to consider the effect of carbon pollution and resulting global warming on weather patterns and, thus, on food production. It’s time to stop dumping chemical wastes into our rivers, lakes and oceans.
Tribal Chairman Frank Ettawageshik, of the Little Traverse Bay Bands of Odawa Indians, summed up what we must do: “If it’s harmful, don’t do it. If we’re already doing it, stop. If we’ve already made a problem, clean it up.” We need to listen to the wisdom of the indigenous people. They know what they are talking about.